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The marketplace is empty.
Marpidium’s usual center of trade and gossip greets the foggy morning air with silence. Tables and large baskets normally filling the space are stored safely away. The crowds usually milling about are gone with no signs of returning.
Standing close to the center of the marketplace are four figures. Captain Almuran Kostia, his quartermaster Maris, Ari Flandine Gurek, and Kemp Romijn stand close together. The cool morning air sends a shiver through the small group.
“Are we early or is everyone just late?” Ari asks.
“Meeting at dawn means different things to each person. It won’t be much longer,” Kostia says.
Movement in the fog ahead of them proves Kostia’s words true. Four groups walk towards them. Each group had four people and Ari’s thoughts return to Kostia’s lessons about the pirate laws.
“Each captain is allowed to bring three men with him. One must be either his quartermaster or first mate. The other two can be whoever the captain chooses. They can be part of his crew or not,” Kostia says.
“That’s weird. Who do you usually bring besides your own crew?” Ari asks.
“Some pirates hire men for added protection. Smaller, rogue pirates or mercenaries. It’s rare, but not unheard of,” Maris answers.
“The two men are to be protection for the captain and quartermaster or first mate. No fighting may occur during the negotiations, but the journey to the decided location and from are fair game. Many negotiations end before they even begin.”
Ari stares at the thin book in her hand. Maris gave it to her. It held the vague outlines of pirate law. Some were expected: Every man shall obey civil command and his commander in all respects or he shall forfeit his share of the expedition. Others surprised Ari: Any man found gambling his share, be it dice, card, or any other form of game, shall be punished with accordance to the articles or by vote amongst his peers. The ultimate decision shall be made by Quartermaster or, if he cannot deem appropriate punishment, by Captain.
The laws were vast, but vague. At the beginning and end of the book, were added notes by, Ari assumed, previous captains. Guidelines, no laws be found here. One especially caught Ari’s eye. Sail true to heart and the laws shall be child’s play.
“I hear your man Kemp has a unique magic,” Kostia says, breaking Ari’s thoughts.
She meets his eyes and nods. “He does. Is that why you requested he be one of the two?”
A smile forms on Kostia’s lips. “Maybe. Have you put thought into who I might choose for the second?”
“It’s your choice. I could make a suggestion, but—”
“You. I want you to be the second.”
Squeezing the book in her hands, Ari slowly nods her head. “I had a feeling.”
“Do you want to know why?”
“Let’s see how well you paid attention,” Kostia says in Ari’s ear, pulling her from her memories. “Can you identify who each captain is?”
Ari stares across the marketplace at the approaching pirates. Her eyes bounce from each group to the central figures of each cloister.
“Farthest left, the big guy,” Air says nodding her head in the direction of a large man wearing a vest. He consciously takes smaller steps so the three around him can stay close. “That’s Rim Cruudler, captain of Three Blades. Sailed with Audra the longest and was given his own ship to captain the latest of those vying for the title. He knew Audra when she was still only captain of a single ship. He’s originally from a small island off the north shores of Deirak and was one of the few of her crew who opposed her fighting in the Blood Wat with my parents.”
“The woman wearing…a men’s uniform? That’s Cerise Bobeto.” The woman in question is surrounded by three other women. Scars on the right side of her face are covered by her hair as a gentle morning breeze moves across the marketplace. “She’s the only woman besides Audra who rose through the ranks faster than a man. She captains the only all female pirate crew on the seas. She views Audra’s title as an opportunity to prove women are superior.”
Ari looks at the next in line. A tall, gangly man with leather straps across his face. He walks as though usually he carries a large weight on his back. “The man with his face covered is Babin, no last name. No one knows where he came from. He is stronger than he looks and his weapon of choice is a large double bladed axe on a change. His goal is to bring the fear of pirates back.” Ari looks at Maris and smiles. “I know you said, bring the glory of pirates back, but everyone I’ve ever heard of use that term really means fear.”
Maris nods his head in agreement. “He is the enigma of those wishing to claim the title. He’s never shown interest in it until recently.”
“And the last captain.” Ari stares at the man dressed in the finest clothes she’s ever seen. The hat on his head has a large feather that twitches at every movement of his head. He’s the only one smiling out of the four and the men behind him keep a good distance. He meets Ari’s gaze and a strange look comes over his face. She recognizes it as intense curiosity and a chill runs through her. “That…that is Aisling Ophius. The only member of Audra Sellin’s crew who actively tried to murder her but was never punished for it.”
The groups stop in front of them as the fog lifts. The four stare at Kostia each with a different emotion in their eyes.
“Fine morning to you all. It’s always grand to see you Rim, Babin, and Cerise.” Kostia says. He turns to Aisling. “Can’t say the same for you, Aisling.”
Aisling nods his head at Kostia. “I understand your apprehension, Kostia. But I do hope the negotiations will go smoothly…without any interruptions.”
“I hope for that, too.”
Aisling’s eyes move to Ari and Kemp but linger on Ari. “I see you chose not to bring your crew. Who are these two?”
“Ain’t that sweet,” Babin says, crossing his long arms across his chest. His eyes trace the scars on Ari’s face. “None of your crew wanted to protect you so you had to go find two strangers?”
“Two people who don’t know what you did to us?” Cerise adds. “What you did to Lady Sellin?”
Kostia eyes Rim. “Anything to add, big guy?”
The large man takes a deep breath and avoids Kostia’s eyes. “Their eyes are, eh, the eyes of those who have, eh, lost much.”
“Does that include their voices?” Babin asks.
“We choose to remain quiet since we are unfamiliar with your rules and don’t want to inadvertently say something that will escalate the negotiations into fighting,” Ari says, her eye meeting Babin’s.
Something she hadn’t noticed when she first saw him was his eyes. The leather straps distracted her. Babin’s eyes are a strange pale brown, but that isn’t the strangest thing. Each eye has multiple pupils. True some are deformed, but there are clearly two pupils in one eye and three in the other. Ari expects him to look away as she stares at the abnormal eyes, but he doesn’t. He seems proud of his strange eyes the way he defies her expectation to look away.
“Who are the ones vying for the title of Pirate Lord of the East?” a voice thunders over the gathered group. Everyone turns to a large walkway leading up to the center of the city. A woman stands in the middle of the walkway, her arms crossed over her chest. The towering ship in the distance behind her almost seem to shrink in her presence.
The groups walk towards her, stopping in front of her in a line with the five captains standing separate from their comrades. The woman wears a dress, but she stands as though she wore pants. “My name is Ethela. I served as Lady Audra Sellin’s Quartermaster before her death. Today I shall be the neutral party to these negotiations. Who vies for the title of Pirate Lord?”
“Captain Almuran Kostia of the Black Heart Pirates vies for the title of Pirate Lord of the East,” Kostia announces.
“What is the basis of your claim?”
“Lady Sellin declared me her successor in front of fifty men and women of her flagship, the Broken Corral.”
Ethela eyes the others. “Can any confirm this declaration?”
Maris steps forward. “I can confirm the declaration.”
Three others step forward, Rim and two of his men. “We can confirm the, eh, declaration, but disagree with the decision.”
Nodding her head, Ethela’s eyes move from face to face. “Who else vies for the title of Pirate Lord?”
“Captain Aisling Ophius of the Bloody Corral Pirates vies for the title of Pirate Lord of the East,” Aisling says, bowing his head.
“What is the basis of your claim?” Ethela asks, her eyes narrowing.
“The combined vote of all those who sail beneath Lady Sellin’s flag. Minus Captain Kostia and his crew.”
“Can any confirm this declaration?”
Babin, Cerise, and Rim step forward. “Aye,” they all answer in unison.
“Captain Babin of the Death Axe Pirates relinquishes his vie for the title to support the claim of Captain Aisling Ophius and denounce the claim of Captain Almuran Kostia.”
“Captain Cerise Bobeto of the Siren Queen Pirates relinquishes her vie for the title to support the claim of Captain Aisling Ophius and denounce the claim of Captain Almuran Kostia.”
“Captain Rim Cruudler of the Three Blades Pirates, eh, relinquishes his vie for the title to, eh, support the claim of Captain Aisling Ophius and, eh, denounce the claim of Captain Almuran Kostia.”
Kostia and Maris both stiffen. Ari senses the shock and surprise in the two men. They never expected the others to so easily relinquish their claims. Even less so to give their full support to Aisling.
Ethela glares at the groups. “Am I to understand this is now a fight between the desire of the Late Lady Sellin and the, apparent, desire of all pirates under her flag?”
Aisling smirks and looks at Kostia. “Do you see the futility of seeking the title, Kostia? Even if you win, none of her ships will sail under you.”
Maris steps forward to stand beside Kostia. Ari and Kemp, not sure what to do, mimic him.
“Well, then I guess,” Kostia starts before raising his eyes to Aisling, “I’ll have to find new ships and crews deserving of sailing beneath the Pirate Lord of the East’s flag.”
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